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Aphelion Editorial 083

July 2004

by Dan L. Hollifield

The Usual Rant from the Aphelion Senior Editor

The Person from Porlock has struck again! I had a topic, something about people being too stubborn to obey minor laws and too proud to disobey major ones, but my girlfriend came in trundling the vacuum cleaner and by the time she was thru- I had forgotten the whole logical sequence of argument to support that statement. Poof! Like a soap bubble. But it did give me another topic that's more to the point of writing. Interruptions can kill a train of thought, a story. What can you do to prevent it? Short of armed guards and a moat, nothing works. Oh, I suppose you could live alone and never answer the door or the phone, but what kind of a life is that? You're a writer, when you're working on a story someone has to remind you to eat every once in a while. That's a given. (shrug) This person can also shield the writer from the rest of the world until the writing project is complete. If you're lucky, you are involved with such a person. And if so, you know that they themselves can conjure up lots of interruptions all on their own. LOL! Witness my plight with the Light of my Life and her housekeeping. Interruptions happen. The phone rings, someone asks you a question about the groceries, you have to go to the restroom... Whatever.

There are writer's tricks you can learn. Like one I use that I heard about from a PJ farmer book: If you have to stop typing unexpectedly, stop in the middle of a sentence. Lester Dent, the creator of Doc Savage, popularized that one. He found it easier to pick the thread of thought back up when he did that. And the man could write a novella in a month or less. Another is to jot things down in notebooks as soon as the idea comes to you. Doesn't matter if it is in a computer or a paper notebook, write it down right then! Don't waste a moment. Ideas can be fleeting things. Rarely do they haunt your memory until you are forced to write them down. David Gerrold used to recommend writing an outline of each scene on index cards, then swapping them around until you found the right mix to tell your story. (Of course, that one was pre-computer too, but the idea is still sound: Nothing that you write is set in stone. Don't be afraid to swap stuff around. Rewrites are your friend.) And then there is always the best trick, save the file often to a back-up copy- before something can happen! (Back-ups are your Guardian Angel.)

Other ways to fend off interruptions: Set yourself up a room to use for an office. One with a door that you can shut when necessary. And make it clear to any co-inhabitants of your dwelling that you will snarl most fiercely if your barriers are breached while you are working. Set up regular times to write. Write something even if you can't seem to get going on your current project. Expect occasional writing binges when you set up your schedule- be flexible. Multi-task- have several projects going on at once so you always have something to work on. And don't be afraid of stopping one project to pick up another if inspiration strikes. When it is time to eat, stop and eat! You can't think straight when you're hungry. When you're not writing, read everything you can get your hands on. You've got to have lots of grist for the mill of your imagination. The wider your interests, the more you can bring to your writing. Pace yourself- the 800 pages of "Dune" wasn't written in a weekend binge you know. Make sure that you take time out from writing to have a life. Otherwise, your dialogue could get rusty. You have to talk to lots of people to know the vocabulary necessary to use for specific characters that you create. An interruption that drug me out to a nightclub wound up being the most vivid scene in a novella. Your entire life can be mined for your work. The trick to that is to do a lot of different things.

Interruptions can be decreased, compensated for, or used to create better fiction. As with comedy, timing is everything. It is really hard to tell sometimes when, or even if, a distraction will turn out to be worthwhile. But some are, so don't be afraid to take the chance. You can always come back later and pick up where you left off, if you learn the tricks.

Everything you know, everything you learn, everything you do, everyone you meet, everywhere you go- everything adds to your resources as a writer. Interruptions can stop you cold, but then again, they can set you off in a new direction too.


I now return you to your regularly scheduled reading...


2004 Dan L. Hollifield

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